Pam, I really must thank you and your Red Cross for the very good work you are doing for us boys as we come through your stations, on our way home from Korea.
At 23, Pamela MacLeod served with the Australian Red Cross during the Korean War. While her training was in occupational therapy, she was soon working in various hospitals, and close to the front lines at field dressing stations and field ambulances. She was involved in the prisoner of war exchange at the end of the war. While in Korea, Mrs. MacLeod performed numerous tasks, ranging from aiding the nurses to writing letters and reading to soldiers to establishing and supervising a mess hall for wounded soldiers.
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And eventually, I worked at an Australian air force hospital in Laverton and I was posted from there, a change from hospital visiting and handicrafts to the field unit and asked if I would go to Japan and Korea. And even though I was a couple of years underage, they really liked people to be 25, I was 23. But I’d had the experience and I think they felt I wasn’t going to run amuck with all those men up there. So that’s what happened and so I was posted up to the unit in Japan and Korea. I flew up and I was only in Japan for a week to meet the CO [commanding officer] and the matron and be kitted out and then went over to Korea and stayed there for about five or six months.
The occupational therapy went by the way really because there were so many other things going on. We would, as the wounded would come in, we’d, they’d usually come in without anything, we made sure that they had kits of shaving gear, soap and things like that and really, if they were going to be medevac’d [medical evacuation] to Japan to the hospital there, we would make sure that they were comfortable and they had everything they needed. And then we would go out with them to the airport and see them on the medevac planes back to Japan. And also if they weren’t able to write, I would write letters to their families and also a lot of the commanding officers didn’t know where their men had gone after a battle, so I would write to the commanding officers and let them know where they were and what was happening to them.
And we also, that was at a Britcomm [British Commonwealth Hospital] because at that point, the Canadian field dressing station [a first aid station located closer to the front lines] didn’t have anywhere for nurses or Red Cross to stay. So we used to go up from Britcomm in Seoul to the 25th Field Dressing Station, a couple of times a week. And we also had to keep an eye on the 121st Evac [Evacuation] Hospital which was a US hospital because sometimes, some of the boys would have been airlifted helicopter down to that hospital. And we wouldn’t necessarily be told, so we’d go over and check there. And if we found some, then we made arrangements for them to be moved back to the British Commonwealth Hospital.
But it was a matter of I think filling in where every, anything was really needed. And of course, you had to visit the patients every day and the, certainly the ones that were ambulatory too. And that took up a lot of time. And you also would run games for them and they loved Bingo. And things like that, anything to take their minds off things. Read to them if they weren’t able to read for themselves and just the days really went actually.
When there was accommodation at the 25th Field Dressing Station, then I was posted up there and stayed there for a number of months and we would sometimes visit some of the field ambulances [a mobile medical unit close to the front lines] and do the same sort of things. We also had a Red Cross hut that was just like a sort of semi-Quonset hut and the ambulatory patients could come over there and write letters or play ping-pong or do whatever they wanted to. And one of us would always be on duty there.
I remember it was all khaki and fairly dowdy and I asked the quartermaster if he could give me some paint and a paintbrush and I said I’d do the painting. But he said no, he wouldn’t give me the paint or the paint brush, so I went out and I managed to scrounge some green paint and I painted the whole thing with a shaving brush. And it looked a lot better.
One of the things that was really, really interesting was I was involved in the prisoner of war exchange. So that was quite, quite something. And I brought in a book that we went to, we didn’t know which prisoners of war would come out each day and you’d keep hoping that some of your British Commonwealth ones would come. But of course, there were a lot of Americans and there were, then a lot of the British Commonwealth ones started coming out. And we spent our time at the 121st [Evacuation Hospital], just waiting to see who came out. And then one day, one of the Americans called out to me, “You’ll be happy tomorrow Oz!” And I went over to talk to him and said, “Why?” And he said, “Some of your guys are coming out tomorrow.” He said, they were just arriving in Munsan-ni [South Korea, now called Munsan] when I left. So I went up to Munsan-ni the next day and was able to meet them coming out. That was the exchange point, they’d bring them down from Panmunjom [village on the 38th parallel] and to Munsan-ni and then I went there. And you had to have all sorts of identification to go up the and all the rest of it, so I brought what I have.
And they were given, the Gloucesters [Regiment, the regiment was outnumbered and surrounded by Chinese soldiers on Hill 235 during the Battle of the Imjin River, 22 to 25 April 1951] were hit very badly, very early in the war and so they’d been in prison for a long time. And I met them coming out and there was, when they left the North Koreans, or the Chinese, they were given little books of remembrance. And most of them threw them out of the trucks as soon as they got away from Panmunjom. And but they were given those with these [a cloth embroidered with a dove and a berry]. Now, I suppose that’s supposed to be a berry but I look at it each time and I think it looks like blood and it makes me wonder if they meant it’s a peace dove but we could come back again, you know.
Each group of prisoners of war who came out hadn’t seen the coronation of the Queen [Queen Elizabeth II, the coronation was 2 June 1953]. So every group was shown the coronation and this was one of them waiting for the movies to start. I must have seen it 100 times.
[Living conditions at the 25th Field Dressing Station] It was just little Quonset huts and we had one for the nursing sisters and for Red Cross and there was usually the Canadian Red Cross and myself and it must sometimes have been British Red Cross but I think mainly they stayed down in Britcomm in Seoul and so it was heated by pot belly stoves and we had a bathroom with three holes. I always avoided when somebody else was in there. It was not quite my style. And the officer’s mess was another Quonset hut and we went there for all our meals. And then I had my Red Cross. It was a huge tent more than a Quonset hut and the hospital was really a number of Quonset huts, sort of joined together. And it was pretty primitive altogether.
I mean, when things had settle down and the talks were going on and on, there were things to do. I remember one Sunday morning, one of the doctors had heard that somebody was making decent ice cream somewhere or another downtown. I think we were about a half hour’s walk away. So he and I walked down to get an ice cream each and we got into the middle of one of the student riots. They’re very big on student riots in Korea. Even today. And anyway, we got our ice creams and got out of there very quickly. But they used to have a dance at the Chosun Hotel which was the best hotel, a big one, in Seoul, run by the Americans. And so there always had a big dance on Saturday night, so when things were quiet, a group of you could go over there and relax and all the different messes more or less had a club or something like that. The American clubs were quite different to our messes but, well they were much better furnished for one thing. And they used to play Bingo in them and often they’d have somebody playing a piano. And ours were pretty bare bones, really.
I was a non-drinker and I think one of the things that I’ve always thought to myself was how much they respected us and nobody ever tried to put anything in my drinks. And I think that says it all, really. And nobody ever made passes. I think they just respected us for what we were doing. The letter that I had from this young soldier, says part of it I think too. “Dear Pam, just a few lines to let you know I’m fine and visiting for the day, waiting for the day of going back home on leave. Pam, I really must thank you and your Red Cross for the very good work you are doing for us boys as we come through your stations, on our way home from Korea.”